Abbildungen der Seite
PDF
EPUB

Let us bring our inquiries nearer honie. The exam. ple of these states, wben Britisii colonies, claims parti. cular aliention ; at the same time that it is so well known as lu require little to be said on it. The principle of representation, in one branch of the legislature at least, was established in all of them. But the periods of election were different. They varied, from one to seven years. Have we any reason to inser, from the spirit and conduct of the representatives of the people, prior to the revolution, that biennial elections would have been dan. gerous to the public liberties? The spirit, which every where displayed itself, at the commencement of the struggle, and which vanquished the obstacles to independence, is the best of proofs, that a sufficient portion of liberty had been every where enjoyed, to inspire both a sense of its worth, and a zeal for its proper enlargement. This remark holds good, as well with regard to the then colonies, whose elections were least frequent, as to those whose elections were most frequent. Virginia was the colony which stood first in resisting the parliamentary usurpations of Great Britain : it was the first also in espousing, by public act, the resolution of indepenilence. In Virginia, nevertheless, if i have not been misint rmed, elections under the former government were septednial. This particular example is brought into view. not as a proof of any peculiar merit, for the priority in these instances was probably accidental ; and still less of any advantage in septennial elections, for when compared with a greater frequency, they are inadmissible ; but merely as a proof, and I conceive it to be a very suh. stantial proof, that the liberties of the people can be in no danger from biennial elections.

The conclusion resulting from these examples will be not a little strengthened, by recollecting three circumstances. The first is, that the federal legislature will possess a part only of that supreme legislative authority which is vested completely in the British parliament; and whicb, with a few exceptions, was exercised by the colonial assemblies, and the Irish legislature. It is a received and well founded maxim, that, where no other

whichi a part only of that the federating thre

and wal Assemblies, abled maxim, that,

circumstances affect the case, the greater the power is, the shorter ought to be its duration ; and, conversely, the smaller the power, the more saiely may its duration be protracted. In the second place, it bas, on another occasion, been shown, that the federal legislature will not only be restrained by its dependence on the people, as other legislative bodies are ; but that it will be moreover watched and controled by the several collateral legislatures, which other legislative bodies are not. And in the third place, no comparison can be made between the means that will be possessed by the more permanent branches of the federal governinent, for seducing, if they should be disposed to seduce, the house of representa: tives from their duty to the people; and the means of influence over the popular branch, possessed by the other branches of the governments alove cited. With less power, therefore, to abuse, the federal representatives can be less tempted on one side, and will be doubly watched on the other.

PUBLIUS.

No. LIII.

BY JAMES MADISON. The same subject continued, with a view of the term of

service of the members. I SHALL here, perhaps, be reminded of a current observation, that where annual elections end, tyranus begins.” If it be true, as has often been remarked, that sayings which become proverbial, are generally founded in reason, it is not less true, that, wben once established, they are often applied to cases to which the reason of them does not extend. I need not look for a proof be. yond the case before us. What is the reason OR which this proverbial observation is founded ? No man will subject himsef to the ridicule of pretending, that any natural connexion subsists between the sun or the seasons, and the period within which human virtue can bear the temptations of power. Happily for mankind,

fiberty is not, in this respect, confined to any single point of time; but lies withiu extremes, which afford sufficient latitude for all the variations which may be required by the various situations and circumstances of civil society.

he election of magistrates might be, if it were found expedient, as in some instances it actually bas been, daily, weekly, or monthly, as well as annual; and if circumstances may require a deviation from the rule on one side, why not also on the other side? Turning our attention to the periods established among ourselves, for the election of the most numerous branches of the state legislatures, we find them by no means coinciding any more in this instance, than in the elections of other civil magistrates. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, the periods are half-yearly. In the other states, South Carolina excepted, they are annual. In South Carolina they are biennial ; as is proposed in the federal government. Here is a difference, as four to one, between tbe longest and the shortest periods ; and yet it would be not easy to show, that Connecticut or Rhode Island is better governed, or enjoys a greater share of rational liberty, than South Carolina; or that either the one or the other of these states are distinguished in these respects, and by these causes, from the states whose elections are different from both.

In searching for the grounds of this doctrine, I can discover but one, and that is wholly inapplicable to our case. The important distinction, so well understood in America, between a constitution established by the people, and unalterable by the government; and a law established by the government, and alterable by the government, seems to have been little understood, and less observed in any other country. Wherever the supreme power of legislation has resided, has been supposed to reside also a full power to change the form of the government. Even in Great Britain, where the principles of political and civil liberty have been most discussed, and where we hear most of the rights of the constitution, it is maintained, that the authority of the parliament is transcendent and uncontrolable, as well with regard to the consitution, as the ordinary objects of legislative provision. They have accordingly, in several instances, actually changed, by legislative acts, some of the mest fundamental articles of the government. They bave, in particular, on several occasions, changed the period of election ; and on the last occasion, not only introduced septennial, in place of triennial elections ; but, by the same act, continued themselves in place four years beyond the term for which they were elected by the people. An attention to these dangerous practices has produced a very natural alarm in the votaries of free government, of which frequency of electious is the corner stone; and has led them to seek for some security to liberty, against the danger to which it is exposed. Where no constitution, parainorint to the government, either existed or could be obtaineel, no constitutional security, similar to that established in the Uvited States, was to be attempted. Some other security, therefore, was to be sought for; and what better security would the case admit, than that of selecting and appealing to some simple and familiar portion of time, as a standard for measuring the danger of innovations, for fixing the national sentiment, and for uniting the patriotic exertions ? The most simple and familiar portion of time, applicable to the subject, was that of a year ; and hence the doctrine has been inculcated, by a laudable zeal to erect some barrier against the gradual innovations of an unli. mited government, that the advance towards tyranny was to be calculated by the distance of departure from the fixed point of annual elections. But what necessity can there be of applying this expeclient to a government, limited as the federal government will be, by the authority of a paramount constitution ? Or who will pretend, that the liberties of the people of America will not be more secure under biennial elections, unalterably fixed by such a constitution, than those of any other nation would be, where elections were annual, or even more frequent, but solject to alterations by the ordinary power of the government?

The second question stated is, whether biennial elections be necessary or useful? The propriety of answering this question in the affirmative, will appear from several very obvious considerations.

No man can be a competent legislator, who does not add to an upright intention and a sound judgment, a certain degree of knowledge of the subjects on which he is to legislate. A part of this knowledge may be acquired by means of information, which lie within the compass of men in private, as well as public stations. Another part can only be attained, or at least thoroughly attained, by actual experience in the station which requires the use of it. The period of service ought, therefore, in all such cases, to bear some proportion to the extent of practical knowledge, requisite to the due performance of the service. The period of legislative service established in most of the states for the more numerous branch is, as we have seen, one year. The question then may be put into this simple form : does the period of two years bear no greater proportion to the knowledge requisite for federal legislation, than one year does to the knowledge requisite for state legislation ? The very statement of the question, in this form, suggests the answer that ought to be given to it.

In a single state, the requisite knowledge relates to the existing laws, which are uniform throughout the state, and with which all the citizens are more or less conversant ; and to the general affairs of the state, which lie within a small compass, are not very diversified, and occupy much of the attention and conversation of every class of people. The great theatre of the United States presents a very different scene. The laws are so far from being uniform, that they vary in every state ; whilst the public affairs of the union are spread throughout a very extensive region, and are extremely diversified by the local affairs connected with them, and can with difficulty' be correctly learnt in any other place, than in the central councils, to which a knowledge of them will be brought by the representatives of every part of the empire. Yet some knowledge

« ZurückWeiter »